Glacier National Park with Kids
A few summers ago, in conjunction with Visit Montana, my 7-year-old daughter and I flew to Whitefish, Montana and explored Whitefish and Glacier National Park for four days. It remains one of my favorite trips – it was an easy destination from Los Angeles, the hiking, kayaking and fly fishing were great, the park was gorgeous, and we had a lot of fun. I love the bonding when I go on adventures with just one of my kids.
I never posted about the trip on my blog, however. So now that we’ve visited a lot of other National Parks the past few years (including Arches National Park) it’s time for a post on Glacier National Park. Here are the top five things we loved, and the reasons you should book a trip!
Getting to Glacier National Park is Easy
Some National Parks aren’t easy to reach. Glacier is. In our case, we flew two hours from Santa Barbara to Denver, had a short connection, and then flew two more hours to Kalispell, Montana. Kalispell’s airport is nicely small, so picking up luggage and getting our rental car was easy, and 20 minutes later we were in downtown Whitefish. There are also direct flights from Los Angeles (3 hours) and San Francisco (2 1/2 hours).
We chose to spend a day and a half in Whitefish before heading to Glacier – less than 40 minutes away. If we had gone straight to the park from the airport, it’s only 35 minutes. And it’s an easy drive. Traffic-free. Stress-free.
There are several major lakes near Whitefish and Glacier, including Flathead Lake, Whitefish Lake, and Lake McDonald. Flathead Lake is by far the largest of the three, and is perfect for fishing, camping, boating and water sports. As we were based in Whitefish, we chose to spend time at nearby Whitefish Lake. We went over for sunset our first night, headed back for kayaking the next day, and then returned yet again in the afternoon to spend time on the beach. Seriously idyllic! And Lake McDonald in Glacier National Park is stunning. Take out a kayak, canoe, paddle board or rowboat and enjoy!
Montana and fly fishing are synonymous, right? We headed out onto the Flathead River, which travels from Canada through both Lake McDonald and Flathead Lake, and fished for nearly three hours with a local guide. My daughter loved the experience and caught (and released) several trout. Our guide was incredibly patient with a 7-year-old fishing for the first time! Highly recommended — just make sure you take plenty of water and sunscreen.
We spent half a day hiking from the top of the Chair 1 at Whitefish Mountain Resort, as well as on the trails around the bottom of the resort, and then hiked for another half day at Glacier National Park. The scenery was stunning everywhere, and we discovered bear grass, a tall flowering plant, that made the hikes even more fun. My daughter, at 7, was great with all of the trails, but Trail of the Cedars in Glacier was easiest.
Our favorite hike was Sperry Trail within Glacier National Park. We parked at Lake McDonald Lodge and simply crossed the street to start the hike, and then we walked partway to Sperry Chalet. It was a perfect early-morning hike, and easy enough for short legs (it gets more difficult if you continue on).
The Town of Whitefish
Don’t skip Whitefish in your hurry to get to Glacier National Park. The town is a great base for a couple of days, or even for your entire trip given how close it is to the park. We ate at several excellent restaurants, loved the proximity to hiking and Whitefish Lake, and thoroughly enjoyed the Whitefish Farmers Market, which takes place every Tuesday throughout the summer. And Sweet Peaks Ice Cream is excellent!
Where We Stayed
We spent two nights at Kintla Lodge at Whitefish Mountain Resort — above town, but it’s a great setup for families, and convenient for exploring the mountain and for the Aerial Adventure Park at the base of the mountain. Our third night we stayed at Under Canvas Glacier just outside of the park — essentially glamping with a campfire and s’mores. But the area between the park and Whitefish is compact enough that you could really stay anywhere and be just fine. Personally I’m tempted to book the Lake McDonald Lodge inside the park next time. The setting is amazing!
Glacier National Park – Your Turn
Have you been to Whitefish and Glacier National Park with kids? What did we miss? What are your favorite things?